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Get Yourself Back On Track - How Physical Fitness Can Help Mental Fitness

By Ben White

20 year old Ben White first picked up a dumbbell aged 15 as a means to lose weight and to help stabilise his hyper-mobility syndrome…
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What you’re about to read is a mixture of fact and personal experience. Mental health affects 1 in 4 people and is something I have experienced first-hand, and let me tell you, it can be debilitating.

For me, the one thing that has helped in my experience of mental health is fitness - having something to focus on to keep you in a routine, while also being able to see yourself changing and getting better at something is priceless and so important for making a mental health change.

So let's start with the reasons that fitness can help keep your mind healthy:

mental health benefits of exercise

Endorphins

woman running

Now for a bit of science, endorphins is made up of two words:

Endogenous - having an internal cause or origin.

Morphine - an analgesic and narcotic drug obtained from opium and medically used to relieve pain.

So you put the two words together and what you effectively get is a pain relieving substance that comes from inside your body. This is pretty much what endorphins are - a group of hormones that are excreted most during physical activities and they help to relieve pain in the body, while also acting as a sedative.

So when you exercise you get a great dose of pain killers and sedatives. This helps to lower anxiety and relieve stress, which are two of the most common causes and symptoms of depression. Long story short, regular exercise helps to relieve and fend off the symptoms of depression, what more reason do you need to get fit!

Self-esteem/sense of accomplishment

When you change your lifestyle for fitness, you will inevitably change your body composition in some way, whether it is packing on slabs of muscle or dropping body fat, you will eventually change.

Now a fitness lifestyle is not easy - it takes time and dedication but anyone who has done it for long enough does it for one main reason, to change our bodies and to sculpt them into the shape we want them to.

confident man

Now in my experience of the fitness lifestyle, making changes takes a long time. When we see ourselves in the mirror every day it can be tricky to identify where we change. The best feeling in the world for me when I started training was seeing people who noticed me changing and having them mention it.

Not only did it drive me back to the gym but really boosted my mental state because you realise your hard work and dedication was worth it. The self-esteem boost this gives you is huge - it lifts confidence and makes you feel on cloud nine.

This feeling will lift your mental state considerably and keeps you training which in turn builds self-esteem, effectively one big circle of good feelings.

Social factors

Something that I have always found with mental health issues is people become more and more secluded and withdrawn. This can eventually turn into social anxiety. Social anxiety can be very tricky to live with and in some cases even leaving the house seems nearly impossible. So how can fitness help with this?

social anxiety

When you start working out, whether in a gym, out running or even with fitness DVDs in the house, there has to be people. The point is you are around people and that is the first step to interacting with people. Plus fitness is a worldwide community, when you're involved with fitness you will always find someone to have something in common with.

Before you know it you'll be on first name terms with the staff in the gym and recognised by the regulars. This is again something that takes time but will help to get you back into socialising. This is the main way to reduce social anxiety!

So now we have a pretty good idea of the ways fitness can help to improve your mental health but we need to actually be in the fitness world to get these benefits, so here are a few ways to get you mind back on track:

Walk

Cutting edge idea, am I right?

walking

Now despite the fact this may sound like a bit of a nothing answer, I have put this here for good reason.

When you walk you release endorphins and we already know why they rock, but it also allows you to spend some time thinking about what you’re doing, and for me personally this was something I find incredibly useful when I have a lot going on.

I would recommend walking a few times a week to start with, make sure though that you escape the urban jungle (if you can) and walk somewhere natural. The fresh air and scenery will help relax your mind, and allow you to make an informed decision on my next point.

Make a flexible plan

Planning things are good when you are struggling mentally - it gives you a routine which feels safe and sets you goals which you have to work towards. The reason I have said to make this a flexible plan is because sometimes things come up and you can't do anything about them.

The biggest issue I learnt from throwing  myself into a super strict diet and hardcore exercise plan when I wasn't mentally healthy was that if I had a bad day, I felt that I had failed and this just made matters worse and I was back to square one.

woman working out in the gym

The best way is to set yourself a plan and make it achievable! If you think you need to lose 15 pounds but that idea seems scary and makes you feel like you can't do it then set the goal lower. If in the end it turns out to be to lose 1 pound then that's fine, once you achieve the goal set yourself a new one!

Your plan needs to allow for a change in diet and exercise, but to start with just alter what you do currently, so instead of eating sugary breakfast cereal, try a low sugar option. Small changes like this don't seem like you’re making such a drastic change and keep you on track easier.

Visualise what you want

Now for me, this is something very important because it should mean you don't need motivation to keep going. Something I see a lot is people who train for 4 weeks really well and start to make progress, and then stop because they lost all motivation…

woman meditating

In my mind you should never need motivation, because if you can list out the things you want from your body and know exactly where you are meant to be heading, training should be part of the process and become a ritual.

The best way to do this is to really think about what you want. This can be anything from huge arms to running a mile in under 6 minutes - whatever it is you need to set your mind to that vision.

Once you have that find people who inspire you on this goal and put them in places you see a lot, this could be putting pictures on your walls or having famous quotes they've said as the screensaver on your phone. Soon enough this will just become your daily focus and should mean you don't waver or lose motivation which will keep you on track.

Sum it all up

I do understand how difficult and debilitating mental illness can be… But I also know how hard getting into fitness can be as well, so put the two together and it can all seem a bit much.

Try these tips to get your mental health back to a better place, and keep it there as well. It's worth it - trust me!

Ben White

About Ben

21 year old Ben White first picked up a dumbbell aged 15 as a means to lose weight and to help stabilise his hyper-mobility syndrome. By the time he was 17 years old Ben had dropped his bodyweight to 153lbs and then began building his body back up.

In the last 3 years Ben has built his weight to 200lbs through proper diet and training and is aiming to open a fitness clothing company whilst being the best athlete he can be.

You can find out more about Ben by checking his Twitter feed and Instagram account.

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